Doubt is a powerful medicine. With a healthy dose at the appropriate time, you can ward off sickness and keep yourself happy and healthy. If you start taking it too often, you can become dependent on it, and it can slowly chip away at what would otherwise be a healthy system. And too much doubt at the wrong time can lead to an overdose that makes you even sicker than you would have been without it.
Unfortunately, some of us are more predisposed to doubt. We carry it with us, and it burdens us constantly. I am not a snake oil salesman here to tell you that I have a magic elixir that will alleviate your doubt. No, I fully believe that there are those of us who are predisposed to doubt, and for most of us, it is a cross that we will bear throughout our lives. But I have learned one thing throughout my business career: knowing when and how to keep my doubt to myself is a skill that I would die without (business-wise, of course).
What and When
If you do present your doubts, you also cannot be superficial with them! You need to explain the reasoning and analysis of your doubts, but it is vital that you offer an alternate solution. If you cannot offer a viable alternative, 95% of the time, it is best to keep your doubts to yourself. That is because doubts equal death in the early stages of an idea or company. All the momentum that builds up from excitement, and all the long hours that enterprising young people are willing to spend to bring their ideas to fruition: all of this can be extinguished if there are too many doubters in their midst. In the case of the startup world, even one doubter is too many.
The single hardest part of being burdened with doubt is figuring out how it is appropriate to share. Most well-adjusted people understand that they cannot be a Debbie Downer all the time and still expect to have a social life or business career. Others mistakenly think that they can channel this doubt into the appropriate career, where they will be celebrated for their penchant for scepticism. For example, many perpetual doubters study to become lawyers, where it is often their job to poke holes in an idea. But the best legal professionals know that the people they advise are not paying them to say “no” all the time. Instead, they want lawyers who say, “no for X, but here’s how you can make Y work”. Thus, even in an industry that is supposed to be a safe space for people like us, we cannot ever truly be ourselves. And that is for the best.
The biggest mistake that we doubters make is that we think we are smart. We have this idea that listing all the potential negative consequences of a decision shows that we have given the decision serious thought. But if we are honest with ourselves, that is often not the case. What really happened is that we relied on one of our greatest strengths, the ability to poke holes, and did not spend much time beyond that. And we also fool ourselves into thinking that this hole-poking talent is somehow special, sometimes because we are rewarded for it during our educations, but it is not that exceptional. People who seem reckless on the outside are also full of doubt. They are just smart enough not to share it. And in a post-pandemic landscape, we are going to need people who are willing to take risks, and we need to give them the stage. The world has had enough doubt over the last year and a half.